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Charles AVISON (1709/10 - 1770): 12 Concertos Op. 6

The Avison Ensemble
Dir: Pavlo Beznosiuk

rec: January 27 - 31, 2003, Newcastle upon Tyne, St Nicholas' Hospital (Jubilee Theatre)
Naxos - 8.557553-54 (2 CDs) (© 2004) (1.46'53")

Concerto No. 1 in g minor; Concerto No. 2 in B flat; Concerto No. 3 in e minor; Concerto No. 4 in D; Concerto No. 5 in B flat; Concerto No. 6 in D; Concerto No. 7 in G; Concerto No. 8 in e minor; Concerto No. 9 in D; Concerto No. 10 in C; Concerto No. 11 in g minor; Concerto No. 12 in A

The English composer Charles Avison was a remarkable individual in several ways. He was born in 1709 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, close to the Scottish border, where he received his first musical training by his father, who was one of the city waits. Although he went to London in 1724 to broaden his musical horizon, he returned to Newcastle in 1735, where he stayed until his death in 1770. In doing so he lived and worked outside the mainstream of English musical life in the decades around 1750.
But he was also remarkable in his musical ideas. During his stay in London he met the Italian violin virtuoso and composer Francesco Geminiani, who had a lifelong influence on Avison. He developed a strong preference for Italian music. This influence shines through in the Concertos opus 6 recorded here. He also admired the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, and arranged a number of them for strings and basso continuo. His preference for the Italian style went so far that, in An Essay on Musical Expression from 1752, he claimed Geminiani was a greater composer than Handel, which caused a vivid debate. In a time when reputed composers like Stanley, Boyce and Arne were strongly influenced by the style of Handel in their orchestral compositions, there is no hint of Handel in the concertos on this disc.
In his treatise of 1752 Avison also stated that in composition expression is more important than formal rules. The importance of musical expression is clearly demonstrated in this opus. In particular the slow movements excel in this respect. An example of a fast movement full of emotion is the 'allegro con affetto' from the Concerto No. 7.

A notable feature of this opus is that we experience here the shift from the style of the baroque towards the early classical style. This can be explained by the fact that, whereas eight of the twelve concertos from opus 6 are reworkings of concertos earlier published as opus 2 (1740), for the publication of this collection in 1758 Avison added four new compositions, where he makes use of the sonata form in most movements. Several movements have attractive subjects, which underlines another feature of Avison's compositional style: his attention to melody.
Avison may have been influenced by the Italian style, one shouldn't expect very dramatic music here. He is very English, after all, and these concertos are rather intimate in comparison with the exuberance of the compositions of Geminiani, Veracini and other Italians Avison so greatly admired. The interpretation of the Avison Ensemble does this music full justice. The sound of this ensemble is perhaps less brilliant than that of other orchestras, but it fits the character of Avison's music very well. Only in some movements I thought the playing was perhaps slightly too reserved, and the 'vivace' of the second concerto could have been played with more verve. Members of the orchestra, in particular Pavlo Beznosiuk, are playing the 'concertino' admirably.
To sum up: this is a very fine recording of a quite interesting opus by a composer who has more to offer than arrangements of some of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

The Avison Ensemble

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